An Atlantic salmon is seen during a Department of Fisheries and Oceans fish health audit at the Okisollo fish farm near Campbell River, B.C. on Oct. 31, 2018. Several Vancouver Island mayors and members of British Columbia's salmon farming industry say a federal decision to phase out fish farming has left them feeling "disposable and discarded." In a letter to Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan, they say they weren't consulted before she announced a plan to phase out open-net pen fish farming in the Discovery Islands over the next 18 months. THE CANADIAN PRESS /Jonathan Hayward

Vancouver Island mayors say they weren’t consulted on B.C. fish farm phase out plan

Concerns and outrage over federal decision on Discovery Islands’ open-net pen farming continue

Several Vancouver Island mayors and members of British Columbia’s salmon farming industry say a federal decision to phase out fish farming has left them feeling “disposable and discarded.”

In an open letter to Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan, they say they weren’t consulted before she announced a plan to phase out open-net pen farming in the Discovery Islands over the next 18 months.

Jordan said earlier this month the decision came after hearing unanimous opposition to the farms from local First Nations.

“You made this decision without even speaking to the industry nor locally elected officials who deeply understand B.C.’s salmon farming communities and have a direct interest in your action,” the letter says.

“Be advised that we will no longer sit on the sidelines and will be pursuing every possible option to remedy this untenable situation.”

The Discovery Islands act as a bottleneck along wild salmon migration routes and eliminating the fish farms was a key recommendation made in 2012 by the Cohen Commission on the decline of Fraser River sockeye.

However, the recommendation was contingent on the Fisheries Department finding the farms posed “more than a minimal risk of serious harm” to the health of migrating sockeye by Sept. 20, 2020.

On Sept. 28, the department said scientific assessments had found nine pathogens from farmed salmon in the islands posed a minimal risk to wild stocks. The risk of the viruses transferring from farmed to wild Fraser River stocks was less than one per cent, it said.

John Paul Fraser, executive director of the BC Salmon Farmers Association, said instead of allowing the farms to continue, the government announced a new consultation process that excluded the industry. He learned about the phase out 15 minutes before the government announced it, he said.

“That’s what we’re looking at here, a decision that was not well conceived, certainly ill-informed and did not in any way contemplate the consequences not just of the Campbell River economy, but really the whole economy of Vancouver Island,” Fraser said.

Workers in the industry were classified as essential under COVID-19 restrictions, only to learn before Christmas that their jobs would be lost without a say, he said.

“Now we just feel discarded, you go from thinking you’re doing something important and we can build on it to now being treated like it doesn’t matter.”

The letter says the move will eliminate about 1,500 jobs and could put the entire $1.6-billion provincial industry at risk.

It is signed by mayors in Campbell River, Port Hardy, Port McNeill and Gold River, as well as 11 industry representatives.

Jordan said in a statement that she plans to meet with industry and community representatives in early 2021 to discuss the transition.

“The decision to phase out fish farms in the Discovery Islands was not an easy one. It was made after many consultations and weighing many factors,” she said.

Aquaculture plays an important role in British Columbia’s economy, but the farms in the Discovery Islands are a “specific case,” she said.

The licences were renewed on an annual basis — unlike others that had been granted longer tenures — “always with the understanding that a decision regarding their permanent status would be made by December 2020,” Jordan said.

Under the plan, 19 existing farms in the Discovery Islands had their licences renewed for 18 months. The farms are not allowed to add new fish during that period, and can only grow and harvest the existing stocks until they are empty.

Phasing out net-pen fish farming in B.C. waters by 2025 was a Liberal campaign promise in the federal election.

Dean Dobrinsky, director of human resources and communications for fish farm company Mowi, said the company has about 17 farms in the area, although some straddle boundaries and the department hasn’t communicated which farms are at issue.

He said the impact of the decision goes much further than the local farms, as supply chains link them with a fish processing plant in Port Hardy and distribution networks in Surrey and beyond.

The Discovery Island farms comprise about 30 per cent of Mowi’s B.C. salmon production and the company will have to assess whether that loss means cutbacks in other areas of the business.

“When you take out that production and you don’t have an obvious option to replace it, you start looking at whether our business is viable,” he said.

The Discovery Islands are in the traditional territory of the Homalco, Klahoose, K’omoks, Kwaikah, Tla’amin, We Wai Kai and Wei Wai Kum First Nations.

When the phase out was announced, Homalco Chief Darren Blaney said it was a relief to members of the First Nation.

Fish farms are one of several threats facing the salmon, alongside climate change, warming waters and habitat loss, he said.

“It feels like it’s been such a long time, you know, to watch our salmon dwindle and dwindle and our community get less and less food fish each year, it was hard to bear,” he said.

Amy Smart, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

Fish Farms

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Coaches with the Juan de Fuca Minor Hockey association have had to get creative during their weekly practices to keep players interested and improving their skills without physical contact. (Damian Kowalewich photo)
West Shore minor hockey coach shares what it’s like on the ice without parents, fans

Most practices consist of relay races, goalie shots and passing drills

The Songhees Wellness Centre is a symbol of First Nations strength in the region. Representatives of local First Nations will soon play a greater role in decision making and governance relating to the Capital Regional District. (Courtesy Royal Roads University)
Capital Regional District to add First Nations representatives to advisory committees

Board approves bylaw, looks forward to Indigenous input on future decisions

Central Saanich will investigate ways in which the municipality along with funding partners Sidney and North Saanich can financially support the Panorama Recreation Centre. (Black Press Media File)
Central Saanich to spell out options for financially supporting Panorama Recreation Centre

Municipality looks for best use of COVID-19 restart grant worth some $3.5 million

Cindy Foggit plays the lead role of Eliza in Passion and Performance’s film production Eliza: An Adaption of a Christmas Carol. (Courtesy of Rachel Paish)
Victoria adult dance studio releases modern adaption of A Christmas Carol

Instead of usual stage performance, dance studio turns to film

Willow, a kitten belonging to a Victoria family, was rescued by firefighters on Thursday after she got stuck in a basement drain pipe. (City of Victoria/Twitter)
Victoria kitten stuck in basement drain pipe rescued by firefighters

Willow the cat on the mend, owner feeling ‘enormous gratitude’

Justin Kripps of Summerland and his team have competed in Olympic action and World Cup competitions in bobsleigh. (Jason Ransom-Canadian Olympic Comittee).
QUIZ: Are you ready for some winter sports?

It’s cold outside, but there are plenty of recreation opportunities in the winter months

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
COVID-19: Provinces work on revised plans as Pfizer-BioNTech shipments to slow down

Anita Anand said she understands and shares Canadians’ concerns about the drug company’s decision

Tourists take photographs outside the British Columbia Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Friday August 26, 2011. A coalition of British Columbia tourism industry groups is urging the provincial government to not pursue plans to ban domestic travel to fight the spread of COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. travel ban will harm struggling tourism sector, says industry coalition

B.C. government would have to show evidence a travel ban is necessary

(Phil McLachlan - Capital News)
‘Targeted’ shooting in Coquitlam leaves woman in hospital

The woman suffered non-life threatening injuries in what police believe to be a targeted shooting Saturday morning

JaHyung Lee, “Canada’s oldest senior” at 110 years old, received his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine on Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021. He lives at Amenida Seniors Community in Newton. (Submitted photo: Amenida Seniors Community)
A unique-looking deer has been visiting a Nanoose Bay property with its mother. (Frieda Van der Ree photo)
A deer with 3 ears? Unique animal routinely visits B.C. property

Experts say interesting look may be result of an injury rather than an odd birth defect

Terry David Mulligan. (Submitted photo)
Podcast: Interview with longtime actor/broadcaster and B.C. resident Terry David Mulligan

Podcast: Talk includes TDM’s RCMP career, radio, TV, wine, Janis Joplin and much more

Chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam provides an update on the COVID-19 pandemic in Ottawa on Friday, Jan. 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada’s top doctor says to avoid non-essential travel as B.C. explores legal options

Premier John Horgan says he is seeking legal advice on whether it can limit interprovincial travel

Seasonal influenza vaccine is administered starting each fall in B.C. and around the world. (Langley Advance Times)
After 30,000 tests, influenza virtually nowhere to be found in B.C.

COVID-19 precautions have eliminated seasonal infection

Most Read